Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Desperate Letter to a Man That I KNOW Can Save Me!

Dear Ira,

I've been slogging through the WABE (Atlanta) pledge drive for what seems to be the fourteenth week (rather than the ninth day) which of course means that I listen a lot.  As I started typing, you were berating Megan for her pledging deficit. (I also heard you do your magic with the guy that stammered his way through your low key questioning on just why he listened and didn't cough up a few bucks.)  You're much better at the guilt than which ever Baldwin brother has been on lately, I've got to say.

You might have some influence with WABE that I don't have.  You see, I don't want to be a member, I don't want a gift, I don't want to talk to anyone with WABE or read the barrage of what WABE sends me when I give money.  I just want to give some money in return for what I get.  For a number of years after being barraged for more money after giving, I quit giving.  A couple of years ago I started giving again, having been expressly promised that no one would contact me.

And of course, computers have more control than humans and each year I get Emails.  Each year I threaten to stop giving, the latest being a few weeks ago when I got an Email telling me that WABE loved its loyal listeners "like me" and wanted to let me know that I would be getting an Email survey from an independent company to find out what I want to listen to and what I liked about the station and didn't like.  I got the promised Email survey (some promises WABE keeps) and filled it out taking the opportunity to tell the independent people about my ire with yearly broken promises and a vow to not contribute again.

Then, for the third or fourth time in the now seemingly six month current pledge drive (did I say I spend a lot of time listening to WABE?) I heard your voice with the aforementioned Megan and was inspired!

In the event you know anyone down here, say Lois Reitzes, John what's his name, the COO, Denis O'Hare, the Burris kid on the weekends, any of the new reporters that my money has played a small part in hiring (they aren't great yet but they are persistent and not too bad), could you, would you, make one of your calls and question them on why they harass someone who gives them money and asks and pleads not to be bothered?  I'd really like to know why it's so hard to give them money.  I bet they'd pay attention to you, if for no other reason that you'd take the piece to say, who?  Fox News would love it!  Juan Williams could do a series of diatribes about the idiocy of the government funded, insensitive, liberals at NPR.  

Best regards,


Friday, March 25, 2011

Tax the Corporate Bastards?

When you do, here’s what happens.

The link will take you a NYTimes.com article (I’m going to miss the Grey Lady) about GE.  GE didn’t pay any U.S. taxes last year; indeed, it got a bit over $3 billion back from the Feds for 2010.

Here’s the part that struck me: “Over the last decade, G.E. has spent tens of millions of dollars to push for changes in tax law….[T]he most lucrative of these measures allows G.E. to operate a vast leasing and lending business abroad with profits that face little foreign taxes and no American taxes as long as the money remains overseas.”

U.S. tax structure causes G.E., and certainly other foreign and multi-national companies, to invest overseas, employee people overseas and keep the money from the investments and work overseas.  Capital investment and jobs that could be here aren’t because we see corporations as marks.  Bastards you say?

“’G.E. is committed to acting with integrity in relation to our tax obligations,’ said Anne Eisele, a spokeswoman. ‘We are committed to complying with tax rules and paying all legally obliged taxes. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our shareholders to legally minimize our costs.’”

She’s right about that boldfaced statement.  Despite what the Supreme Court says in Citizens United about corporations, they, unlike Soylent Green, aren’t people.  Corporations are legal fictions that make raising capital easier and less risky for their owners, people – the shareholders.  The managers are charged with maximizing profit.  If staying out of the U.S. is the “price” of profit, so be it.

What would happen if we started treating corporations as what they are, not people?  Well, we of course wouldn’t tax them; but, they aren’t paying much in the way of taxes now are they?*  We would be giving them an incentive to stay at home with their capital and jobs.  Guess what that means?  They are buying more American goods and employing more American people.  American goods mean American companies that make a profit for their shareholders, people, Americans who pay taxes.  And those American workers not in the leisure classes pay taxes too.  And invest in 401(k)’s and SEPs which invest in corporations’ stocks – profits for corporations mean retirement for people.

Instead of no taxes and capital and jobs overseas, you have capital, jobs and taxes here in the good old U.S.A.

*And though I’ve said it before here, probably too many times, corporations don’t pay taxes.  (I’m in a boldfacey kind of mood today.)  They tack the cost of taxes on to the price they charge people, and then pass it on to the government.  You pay the taxes that corporations remit to the government.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yet another subject I'm not qualified to opine about...

…and that is anti-Trust law.  Don’t go away, I’m not really going to lecture you on it.  Indeed, I know almost nothing about it other than that the Feds almost always let companies do whatever it is the companies want to do after a couple of small concessions.

What I really don’t know about is telecommunications, other than the effects of the current system on me and what looks to be a worse situation after AT&T buys T-Mobile.

AT&T is probably right that it can save a boatload of money from the purchase.  A forest of new cell towers, a sea of new bandwidth, 30 some million new customers without having to keep many of T-Mobile’s employees and stores - some great looking economy of scale.

AT&T is also probably right that voice and data coverage and quality will probably increase for a lot of people.

What AT&T doesn’t talk about is price, which will almost certainly go up if the deal gets done.  And, did you notice that Verizon said it doesn’t have any big objections to the purchase?  Wondering why?

If the deal gets done, the country will have a de facto duopoly wireless market.  AT&T and Verizon would have 80% of the national market with a few bit players fighting over the leavings.  Neither company would have much incentive to compete on price or service.  Where are their customers going to go?

But I think I could give AT&T what it says it wants and give us a wireless market that provides quality, coverage and reasonable price.

Let AT&T and T-Mobile get married, but:

1) require that phones sold in the U.S. be un-locked, work on both GSM and CDMA and across all spectrums;

2) require that a phone offered to any carrier must be offered to all carriers and/or any consumer;

3) require wireless carriers to offer monthly contracts and pre-paid plans; and, finally,

4) require carriers to "re-sell" data bandwidth to other carriers.

This would allow for more competition from the small carriers and let consumers "vote with their feet" while giving the big boys the economies of scale they want.

Free market economics only works, if it works, when there is a true market.  Like in the cable/satellite business, there is less and less of a market in wireless.

Can you imagine car companies working deals with local governments for exclusive use of their roads as cable companies have done for decades?  Which is the more competitive and innovative market, cars or cable? Want ESPN?  You got to take, and pay for, 50 more channels you don’t want.  Want an iPhone?  Guess what, you can’t go to Sprint or Metro PCS.  The idea of ala carte cable pricing scares Comcast to death.  Monthly contracts and pre-paid plans on unlocked phones that work everywhere would similarly scare AT&T and Verizon to death.  They’d actually have to compete for customers based on quality and price.

And if Virgin and Metro PCS and the other bit players could offer voice and data that they buy from AT&T and Verizon, guess what?  They could offer more competitive pressure to lower or keep prices in check.

The "churn" rate would go through the roof as people hopped from carrier to carrier and phone manufacturer to phone manufacturer looking for the best service and price, until the carriers and manufacturers all gave good service and low prices.

Ah Dave, you dreamer you.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sea Change or a Sinking Ship?

The New York Times announced today that it is going to a pay wall for its online content on March 28.  Simplistically put, it will give you 20 articles a month (with some exceptions depending on how you arrive at NYT.com).  After that you have to pay between $15 and $35 a month to read the site.

I’m all in favor of The Times and other news providers providing quality product and I know that costs money.  My problem is that my news reading has changed over the last 15 or so years.

I used to read the local paper, watch some network news, listen to NPR and a local radio news program or two and call it a day.  Total cost $10 or so a month for the paper, a contribution to public radio station and an annoyance factor from the radio and TV commercials and pledge drives.

Now, in any given week, most on a daily basis, I read the online versions of The New York Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, both Chicago newspapers, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Slate, Salon, Engadget, TechCrunch, three Android OS sites, CNN, NPR, The Apple Insider, Hacking Netflix, The Hill, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Forbes, Leonard Pitts, Roger Ebert, Google News, The Huffington Post, some occasional Fox News, BBC News, and probably some other publications that aren’t coming to mind as I type this.

NYT is big in the rotation but it’s not $15 a month big.

With some guilt, I hope the Grey Lady fails to attract enough subscribers to make a go of this.  Why?  If it’s a success, many of the news providers listed above will do the same thing; and, I’m for sure not going to pop for multiple $15 subscriptions each month.

But there’s a solution to this problem.  I invented it some time back. A company like Google in the form of Google News or Apple with its iTunes and other products are perfectly situated to start the "News Store." Have a website where someone like me that reads a lot of news from a lot of sources can pay $x a month, something in the neighborhood of $15-20, for "all you can eat" news from the site's content providers. The site takes a cut of the revenue and the rest of it is divided among the providers based on the number of hits they get. Good content, more revenue for the provider, more quality, more revenue - a positive "vicious circle." I think it would be win-win for everyone.

Netflix and LoveFilm in Europe (that Amazon just bought) seem to me to have proved that people will pay for varied content and that the distributer and the content provider can make money under the model. Netflix has perfected the all you can eat for one price model with streaming movies. It negotiates a price with the content providers and keeps the extra as its profit. The trick is to strike a balance where the provider is just this side of happy with the payment, it is just this side of happy with its cut and I am just this side of happy with what I pay.

Just doesn’t seem all that hard to me; but, who am I to tell The New York Times how to run its business?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Can I get some of my money back?

It’s been a long time since I left law school.  Back then in the dark ages, the University of Miami School of Law was well respected, as I recall consistently ranked in the top thirty or so law schools in the country.

No longer.  I was shocked to find that it ranks 77th in this year’s U.S. News listing.

Skimming the list for Southern schools, it doesn’t even hit the top ten, trailing Virginia, Tulane, Emory, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia State and Kentucky.  We whipped Louisiana State and West Virginia though.

I don’t have a big finish for this, I just can’t figure out what my alma mater did to get so bad.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Why do they keep changing things?

I think car designers got over this some years back; but, for much of my life, the hood releases on cars could be just about anywhere on or in the grill.   My last few have stabilized at the middle/top of the grill.

Though there aren’t a lot of options for placement, why do some manufacturers put the gas fill opening on the left and some put it on the right (are there any still behind the license plate?).  Ah, the adventure of putting gas in a rental!

PC’s and Macs do all the same things but insist on putting controls in different places.  I’m not sure which came first; but, why is Ctrl Alt Del, Cmd Option Esc on a Mac?  (I didn’t even know there was a force close function on a Mac until the other day when Photoshop Elements froze – I’d never in two years had a crash.  Take that MS!)

The impetus for this post came yesterday when I got a new phone.  Same carrier – T-Mobile.  Same manufacturer – HTC.  Same OS – Android.  But things had to be just a bit different.  When the phone comes on, you have to unlock it by sliding the unlock icon to the right, rather than sliding it down.  Answering a call and ending it are now left/right rather than up/down swipes of the same icon.  The mini-USB port is on the left side rather than the bottom.  The on/off switch is on the upper right rather than the upper left side, having swapped positions with the audio port.  The “Internet” icon is now the “Browser” icon.  The “hard” buttons at the bottom for “Home,” “Menu” and “Back” aren’t real buttons now, just dedicated spots on the casing that respond to touch (though I kind of like that change).

After a day, I’m pretty much already used to the changed placements and labels; but, I still can’t figure out why they were necessary.  I’ve got it – someone passed the “Designers Full Employment Act” and didn’t tell me.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Are Dems just following in the path blazed by the GOP?

Democratic refugees from Indiana and Wisconsin are  still settled in Illinois last I checked.  They are still being lambasted by their Republican colleagues back home and Fox News pundits.

But, right or wrong, aren’t the Dems just doing what Republicans in the U.S. Senate have done for years, except on a larger, more visible scale?  I’m talking about the fine tradition of the filibuster that we all learned about from Jimmy Stewart.  You remember how he stood and talked and stood and talked in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington until he couldn’t do it any more.

Filibusters in the U.S. Senate these days are a lot more wimpy and a lost less dramatic.  A Senator simply announces the filibuster and that’s it, other than that the bill under consideration can’t proceed until the Senator says so.

Senates in this country have tradition of “consensus” as opposed to the lower chambers’ majority rules approach to lawmaking.  When one or the other party has a majority and could otherwise ramrod their bills, the filibuster serves to slow them down and force them to compromise with the minority.  Ask any Republican and any Fox pundit – they’ll tell you I’m right and that the filibuster is a time honored mechanism to protect the rights of the minority.  Except of course in Indiana and Wisconsin.

I haven’t taken the time to find out; but, I gather that the rules in Indiana and Wisconsin don’t provide for filibusters.  But aren’t the Midwest Democratic politicians just doing the same thing, and doing it in the old fashioned dramatic mode popularized by Jimmy Stewart?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

I don't want to trust them

Don’t boo; but, the problem is women.  Stay with me here.  It isn’t women as opposed to men.  It’s women in their role as spouses (and on a rare occasion it’s men in their role as spouses).

Let’s look at two spouses.  Ginny Thomas and Supriya Jindal.

Ginny is married to Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court.  Supriya is married to Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Mrs. Thomas is quoted as saying "I did not give up my First Amendment rights when my husband became a justice of the Supreme Court."  She is absolutely right; and, she’s been exercising them for years.

Until December she ran Liberty Central, “a conservative Web site that she founded in 2009 and that has strong links to the Tea Party movement.  An anonymous $500,000 donation to start up Liberty Central came from Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate investor and Republican financier….” NYTimes.com 
Before that, she worked for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.  USAToday.com

This year, she formed a consulting and lobbying firm, Liberty Consulting, Inc., which will“advocate for ‘liberty-loving citizens’ who favored limited government, free enterprise and other core conservative issues. She promised to use her ‘experience and connections’ to help clients raise money and increase their political impact.”  NYTimes.com

A couple of months after Governor Jindal took office, Supriya Jindal formed Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the foundation has received large amounts of money from corporations with pressing legal and regulatory concerns in Louisiana.

“AT&T, which needed Mr. Jindal, a Republican, to sign off on legislation allowing the company to sell cable television services without having to negotiate with individual parishes, has pledged at least $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.  Marathon Oil, which last year won approval from the Jindal administration to increase the amount of oil it can refine at its Louisiana plant, also committed to a $250,000 donation. And the military contractor Northrop Grumman, which got state officials to help set up an airplane maintenance facility at a former Air Force base, promised $10,000 to the charity.
The foundation has collected nearly $1 million in previously unreported pledges from major oil companies, insurers and other corporations in Louisiana with high-stakes regulatory issues….”  NYTimes.com

Ginny Thomas has every right to promote whatever political views she wishes.  Supriya Jindal is using the corporate donations to help Louisiana kids who desperately need the help.

To pick on someone from the other side of the political spectrum, Michelle Obama is promoting reducing child obesity and encouraging all Americans to eat healthy foods.  She’s able to do this because of her status as the First Lady.  And while I don’t know it, I would not be at all surprised if some corporations have gotten on board with money and effort to help her.

So here’s my problem.  Clarence Thomas has said that he isn’t influenced by his wife’s political work.  Bobby Jindal has said the same things about the money his wife has collected.  I’m sure Barack Obama would say similar things about corporate largesse helping Michelle Obama.  I’m not at all sure I believe them.

If Clarence, Bobby and Barack can’t do the things their wives are doing and operate legally and ethically (though Clarence might disagree with me given recent speeches), shouldn’t the prohibition extend to their wives?  The answer is no. 

Marrying someone doesn’t extinguish the non-public spouse’s “personhood.”  We are long past the days of Lady Bird Johnson and Jackie Kennedy confining their efforts to flowers and the arts.  The influence wielded by the corporations, through the spouses, on the public officials can’t and shouldn’t be stopped by statutes, regulations or ethics rules.  I just have to trust to the officials’ integrity and honor to resist the temptation to look favorably on the corporations making the indirect bribes.  But, I’m nervous.